Mention the word sashimi in polite conversation and you immediately polarize those around you into the raw fish haters and those that revel in the taste of all things Japanese. Talk some more and you will soon see the main misconception we have about sashimi come to the surface.
In the west, sashimi and raw sushi have become interchangeable, but for the Japanese themselves, they are two very distinct styles of food. While sushi will include raw fish, it also comprises other ingredients such as rice and seaweed. Sashimi lets the raw fish do all the talking.
It refers to the way the fish and meat are cut very thinly and then displayed on the serving plate. Normally sashimi would be the first course in a meal, but it can also be a main course when served with miso soup and rice. In this instance the rice and soup will be served in separate bowls so as to not take anything away from the sashimi.
The roots of the word sashimi are lost in time. A literal translation means pierced body and this could refer to the way the tail of the fish is sometimes inserted back into the thin slices or to the way the fish is pierced with a spike to kill it when first caught.
Understanding is key, of course. If you are in a Japanese restaurant, ask for sashimi if you want delicately sliced raw meats and fish on their own. If you want to experience a wider range of tastes, ask for raw sushi instead.